Do you know the most popular languages in the United States? No surprise: English #1 and Spanish #2.
America’s third most popular language, with about 2 million users, is American Sign Language (ASL)! In the US, there are close to 1,000,000 people who are deaf and 10,000,000 people who are hard of hearing.
Deaf and hard of hearing people have their own culture, history and language that differs from hearing American culture. It is impossible to talk about ASL without mentioning ‘Deaf culture.’ As a hearing-majority community, it is important for Americans to learn about deaf culture to break down stigmas and avoid audism (discrimination or prejudice against individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing). There are some common misconceptions about the deaf community and ASL:
- Most deaf and hard of hearing people come from generational deaf families. Ninety percent (90%) of deaf and hard of hearing children are born to parents who are hearing.
- Learning ASL makes it difficult for Deaf and Hard of Hearing children to learn English or other spoken languages. According to deafchildren.org, “Studies show that Deaf and Hard of Hearing children that learn ASL at a young age perform better academically, understand more English and have better skills for organizing, maintaining attention and inhibiting impulses.”
- Sign languages are universal. There are about 6,000 different signed languages in the world and different countries have their own signed languages. Even within American Sign Language, there are different accents and dialects such as Black American Sign Language or BASL.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that ASL is simply signed English. ASL is its own language! ASL has its own vocabulary and grammar rules. In fact, French and ASL have more in common than American and British Sign Language. Facial expression and Mouth morphemes are critical when signing. Just a raise of your eyebrows can change a statement to a yes/no question.
ASL and the Deaf community are continuing to grow. We need to include Deaf and Hard of Hearing in market research, and The Research Group can help!
Are you interested in learning ASL? Here are some tips to utilize while learning this beautiful, visual language:
- Start with the basics. Learning how to finger spell (expressing the alphabet with your hands) and simple phrases can go a long way when communicating with deaf or hard of hearing people.
- Learn ASL from a deaf or hard of hearing person. Deaf people know their language the best and why wouldn’t you want to learn from an expert? Learning from a deaf person is the best way to learn the right information, nuances, jargon, slang and quickly pick up on new phrases and words. This allows also you to immerse yourself in the deaf community which has proven to show better results when acquiring a language.
- Be Patient. Learning ASL is like learning any skill- it takes time! Be patient and practice humility as there will be mistakes along the way.
“Knowledge of languages is the doorway to wisdom.”